OLEAN, NY – Mayor William J. Aiello started his State of City address Thursday by comparing Olean to the title character in a classic children's book his granddaughter recently read to him: "The Little Engine That Could."
Speaking about "the little city that could" in a hopeful tone, Aiello reflected on past, present and future projects in Olean.
"It is amazing what our community has accomplished," Aiello said. "We should all be very proud,"
The mayor gave a timeline on projects the city undertook during his years as mayor, from 2014 through 2019.
In 2014, the North Union Street Revitalization commenced; the city received a $854,000 Green Innovation Grant; $1 million in Restore NY funds became available for the Gateway Project; construction on the Bradner Stadium Field House began; Jeff Belt purchased and renovated properties from 110 to 116 West State Street, and the upgrades of York Street and Prospect Avenue were completed.
In 2015, the Blight Task Force was initiated; construction on a $23 million waste treatment plant began; houses on Wayne Street were demolished; a new water policy was adopted; construction of the hangar at the Olean Airport was completed; the city upgraded 23 streets, and a new playground was installed at Homer Hill.
In 2016, Olean received 13 blighted properties which the Blight Task Force worked together to secure; the city received a $100,000 zombie grant and another grant for a permanent farmer’s market, and finalized a grant package to enable renovation of the William O. Smith Recreation Center.
In 2017, Olean received additional grants for the farmer’s market from the State of New York (secured by Sen. Catharine Young) and from Cattaraugus County; a $3.3 million renovation in the William O. Smith Recreation Center was completed, and the city received $10 million for the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.
Additionally, a grant from Marianne and Erick Laine enabled the restoration of the entrance to Oak Hill Park, and a new property maintenance and residential occupancy code was made.
In 2018, redevelopment of the brownfields was done via a grant; projects for the DRI were announced; close to $5.5 million in grants were received for the building of Trailhead Parklet and upgrade King Street Park; a $200,000 grant enabled Olean to implement a microenterprise assistance program, and Olean's community development office and code partnered with the Cattaraugus County Land Bank to demolish 15 blighted homes.
Lastly, in 2019, Olean applied for and received $416,000 in grant money to help with the HK Olean Hotel Project; the city received $100,000 for continued efforts in the fight against blight; contracts were signed for public works projects, and grants totaling $700,000 were awarded for roof stabilization of the Manufacturers Hanover Building.
Also, Olean received $300,000 in grants for the airport and $900,000 in grants for the Washington Street Water Project; 22 blighted properties were demolished; the roller skating program was begun at the Recreation Center; the Trailhead Parklet and King Street Park opened, and $200,000 in microenterprise loans were dispersed.
"Every item on this timeline was a group project for our staff," Aiello said. "Professionalism and interdepartmental cooperation are vital elements in the city’s success in obtaining grants and following through with the necessary paper work. The excellent work of our Office of Community Development and the DPW Administrative Staff is commendable."
After the timeline, Aiello focused on further accomplishments from 2019, giving statistics regarding the city auditor's office, the city clerk's office, the city assessor's office, the department of public works, the police department, the fire department, the youth and recreation department, the Fannie E. Bartlett House and various volunteer groups.
"During 2019, taxes rose one percent," Aiello said. "The City received a clean report from the independent auditors. Our sales tax revenue increased by over $200,000 from the prior year, and our health care insurance increase is a mere five percent."
According to the city clerk's office, he noted, $35,000 in revenue was collected from parking lots; $65,000 was collected from parking tickets; $41,500 was collected from vital records, and $3,357 was made by issuing marriage licenses.
"The City Assessor’s Office reports that we had 135 'arms length' home sales in 2019 with the average home sale price of $75,000, an increase of $5,000," Aiello said. "In addition, with increased development, the city realized the first increase in taxable value in five years."
Also, the residential assessment ratio has been maintained to within about five percent of market value.
"Olean’s Department of Public Works was able to use funding to make improvements to eight streets, as well as reconstruct the York and South Union Street intersection to make safer ADA crossings, crosswalks and signage," Aiello said.
Generator back-ups were installed at the Martha Avenue and Fourth Street pump stations and about 1,200 feet of sewer were upgraded with new sewer lining.
The Olean Police Department received $56,000 in grant money to upgrade body cameras. And the police implemented a defensive tactics program to minimize injuries and also became involved with three programs: Shop With a Cop, the OCSD Special Patrol Officers Program, and the CAReS substance abuse education program for children.
"The fire department responded to a total of 1,760 calls," Aiello said. "There were 43 structural fires, nine of which were notable and required a second alarm or higher. The department responded to 84 other fires, 52 rescue calls, 223 service calls, 59 hazmat calls and 220 automatic alarms."
Throughout 2019, the fire department had 1,079 EMS assists and conducted 110 fire safety inspections, and brought fire education programs to approximately 1,200 local elementary students.
Aiello highlighted events held in Olean and their attendance figures.
Seventeen Concerts in the Park were held; 325 participants registered for the summer recreation program, and the roller skating program averaged 50 participants weekly.
Also, the ice skating program had almost 9,000 admissions; about 3,000 people took part in the 12 Ice Skating Days of Christmas, the youth basketball league was comprised of four girls’ teams and six boys’ teams, and over 100 students attended the St. John's Youth Center weekly.
Aiello said the Fannie E. Bartlett House experienced increased use in 2019 because of Christmas activities, psychic fairs and the three StrOlean events.
Lastly, numerous volunteers from the Frannie E. Bartlett House, the Olean Beautification Committee, volunteer gardeners, Olean High School, Lila Ervay's Litter Control Program, BonaResponds and the Junior and Senior Leagues helped clean up North Union Street, Lincoln Park, Oak Park and other streets.
Volunteers also helped build King Street Park.
"It was an amazing event, proving that Olean is the little city that could," Aiello said. "We don’t just think we can. We prove we can, over and over and over again."
Before concluding his speech, Aiello gave some last points of interest: the anticipated tax cap and new challenges to the police department: "Bail Reform" and "Discovery Reform."
"We are anticipating a tax cap of 1.7 percent and will work to stay within that boundary," Aiello said.
The Bail Reform will eliminate money bail and pretrial detention for nearly all misdemeanor and nonviolent felony cases. Police will be required to give arrested people appearance tickets and then release them. Discovery Reform will require any and all materials relating to arrests be given to the defense within 15 days.
"In conclusion, Olean, like every other city, town and village, faces new and old challenges," Aiello said. "But here we are, after two centuries: a vibrant city, looking back with pride and forward with optimism and great expectations. [We] continue to be what we have always been: a safe, friendly, caring and welcoming community."
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